The digital age has brought with it countless innovations which disrupt seemingly everything, and sleep is no exception to this trend. Over the past few years, smart beds and sleep apps, which monitor your drowsiness and how much shuteye you get, have become increasingly popular, with millions of people now relying on their digital devices when it comes to getting better rest. There are plenty of reasons to believe that smart beds and sleep apps are potential privacy concerns, however, and it would be foolish to embrace the trend of digitizing and monitoring our sleep without ensuring that our basic rights aren't being violated all the while.
Here's why smart beds and sleep apps are raising privacy concerns everywhere, and what you can do to ensure a better night's sleep without relying on a digital assistant.
They're natural surveillance devices
It's a simple matter of fact that smart beds and sleeping apps are natural surveillance devices — indeed, that's literally what they are advertising in most cases. By enabling them to collect data on your habits, you are effectively turning your life into a case study for better sleep that will be analyzed by experts and algorithms, with or without your knowledge. After all, it's already been proven that everyday digital devices such as your iPhone or similar smartphones are likely to be sharing your data while you slumber. By introducing smart beds and other sleep tracking apps into the equation, we are merely furthering the extent to which tech companies and advertisers can learn more about us in the pursuit of peddling their products.
A "smart bed" isn't always easy to define — it may be a mattress pad which is added to your normal bed or it could be a tech-driven affair with sensors embedded in it from the very get-go. Companies such as Sleep Number are already capable of churning out impressive beds which can monitor your heart rate and movement as you sleep, for instance, demonstrating the sometimes eerie capacity of our beds to vacuum up our personal and medical information.
At a Fortune Brainstorm Health conference that was hosted in San Diego, Sleep Number CEO Shelly Ibach even noted how such data fed into the company's algorithms to gain a more accurate picture of consumer sleeping habits.
Harmless and helpful websites such as sleepjunkie.org have existed for years to help those who are troubled when it comes to getting some shuteye, but this new era of smart beds and sleep apps is another thing altogether. These are smart devices which are placed directly into our homes, monitoring our every movement as we sleep and potentially storing valuable and personal data which could be stolen by nefarious third parties who don't care a fig about your privacy. With consumer data privacy being more important these days than ever before, you'd think it would be a bigger concern among the public, but by and large the rise of smart beds has gone unnoticed.
What's going on with your data?
One of the biggest reasons we should be skeptical of smart beds and sleep apps is that we're not always entirely certain what these companies and app designers do with our valuable data once they have it. Without a data privacy movement, we could see this worrying trend grow worse and worse as more companies vacuum up our information without being held accountable for its proper storage and usage.
Companies can also make use of "anonymized, de-identified" data which supposedly keeps your identity a secret. Whether or not we should trust major corporations when it comes to keeping our personal information anonymous is beside the point — the fact that companies are already leveraging this information is indicative of the fact that data breaches have likely already occurred. Those who are looking for a better night's sleep should be less willing to rely on sleep apps and smart devices if they are concerned about their information privacy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a number of helpful tips when it comes to getting more sleep, none of which require you to make an expensive investment in a smart device or keep close track of your slumbering with the help of a digital app. Going to bed around the same time every night, for instance, is a surefire way to bolster your sleep. Similarly, avoiding electronics and large meals before you sleep is essential if you want to get a good night's rest without tossing and turning. Insomnia has never been an easy problem to deal with, but our increasing reliance on smart beds and other digital tricks such as sleep apps could come back to give us nightmares sooner rather than later.